Science Day 2016 at GMRT, Khodad and learning.
First things, first. I haven’t been blogging for number of reasons. One of the biggest reasons is basically I need a place to put up the photos and for that I need to pay. Most of the free sites where you are able to upload pictures have a limit like 1 GB or something while at the same time privacy, copyrights are both issues at least on the free sites so it’s demotivating to blog without pictures.
Anyways, While last year (2015) we had also gone to Khodad, Science Day and made a booth for FOSS but didn’t report about it as the next day we had the rains and had to pack up early. Even the day before not many students had come as it rained now and then and at times was sunny and windy, while we enjoyed that experience with nature, we weren’t able to do much of awareness building last year.
This year, however, we were lucky to be there for both the days. This time just like last time, we had also invited Mozilla to set a stall alongside us just like last time. I also engaged with a localization expert who’s working with C-DAC as there had been inquiries by students and general public and because I’m not an expert on that we would share something small but having a full-fledged localization guru Chandrakant Dhutadmal made it that much more special. Chandrakant not only works at localization but also has more than a passing fancy in font design and we had a bit of discussion about how little is that known and explored in the Indian IT setup either to do with font-making or font-design among with other things but that’s a discussion to be taken up on another day.
Coming to this year, while we had planned that we would also put up a booth this year, both Akshat and I were busy with our lives. The end result was that we met just the day before the event. Raju, another of our volunteers was sick, so it was me and Akshat who funded the event. We didn’t have much time so me, Sagar (another volunteer), Akshat went to a DTP shop and we made stickers of all the popular FOSS products just like last year to give as giveaways to children. We also had some left-over DVD’s from last year which we also added to the kitty. It was till late night that we were able to get the stickers printed as well as a Flex poster comparing different SBC’s. The problem with that is with SBC’s will evolve over time so it doesn’t have much staying power unlike the FOSS flex that we had done the year before.
Anyways, On the fateful day, after a brief sleep, I joined Sagar and early morning we made our way to the NCRA campus at Pune University. We started our journey quite early around 07:15 hrs. but had no idea that the Rajgurunagar Khed Junnar highway was being turned into a 6-lane concrete highway so instead of the two lane asphalt highway, as work was ongoing it turned into a single lane highway with vehicles from both sides using it so it was very slow-moving. The average time which had been roughly 2 hours turned to around 3.5 hours . Me and Sagar reached but couldn’t do anything as half our equipment (the monitors) was with Akshat so we just had to wait. Akshat and Rajat showed around in an hour’s time and it took us almost an hour to set things up. One of the SBC’s was not working. We hadn’t got any spare MicroSD’s and we didn’t want to mess things up to what was working. We had a Debian machine hooked to a monitor where we showed the desktop, Libreoffice etc. We had forgotten to bring the blender animation movies which we did the next day but didn’t think to have any .blend files as that would also have needed somebody who knows and understands it at an intimate level. Texturing, bone, hair blender has grown much more than a simple 3-D animation tool which it started as and with the recent work being done to make it a full end-to-end animation production workhorse it will only get better.
In any case, none of us would have done no justice to it so we didn’t do that. What was shared by Akshat was mostly about python, java and nodejs programming as he has experience in all three, Sagar and Rajat shared about SBC’s as they had played at it while I was safely playing the role of the generalist FOSS enthusiast sharing about Debian and sharing some basics about licensing. We did use the time to argue about FOSS in all walks of life, the only place where I felt that FOSS really needs to make it mark is in governance. I know that quite a few countries have taken substantial steps to use FOSS in governance but India is pretty confusing state as in the Government. There are double or dual-standards about everything similar to the culture here and am not sure how much FOSS would get into governance. I do know that there are some attempts by the Central Government (India has the common Federal sort of Governance which is there in most Democratic Countries) So power is shared between Centre, State and Municipal Bodies and its very rare that all three would be by one political party, so probably this was an attempt by our forefathers to have checks and balances against excesses of power but this too is a discussion for another day. From discussions from people of IT students as well as professionals rightly or wrongly, FOSS is seen by most people as being weaker due to the fact that you can read the code, while ‘Security by Obscurity’ is more highly valued among Computer Science students . It does shed some light on what sort of education they are receiving. Some Open Source Governance projects can be seen here so it’s happening, but no much known in the Indian scheme of things.
My real learning came though, the next day as the second day me and Rajat decided to roam the other booths. Where we had been given our booth, there was some interesting booths next to us. There were around 20 odd booths setup in a mirror of Z shape . We were near the end of the above or below of the Z depending on how you look at it. Few stalls down to us were 2 stalls manned by volunteers of Citizen Science Network (CSN). One of the stalls that they had put up was about rainwater harvesting. It was news to me that rainwater harvesting had been made mandatory at least in the Pune district. It seems any new construction they need to make sure that there is at least one rain-harvesting structure in every building. This is also supposedly encoded in the new upcoming building by-laws but most building contractors, real-estate developers don’t do it. I had read some news reports that over the last 3-4 years only 2-3% of the developers had done it as you have file building plans to the respective municipal authority before you can start construction. But this again is a topic for another day.
Another stall that I went to was about earthquake detection. To my surprise, 60 years even after independence, we still are dependent on imports for seismometers whose functionality is similar to what the ECG is to people. Just like ECG monitors the heart’s electrical activity and produces troughs and peaks to understand how a person is faring, Seismometers do the same for a particular area of land. Because they are not made in India, the cost is pretty high and there is not much research happening although India has had its share of earthquakes and some parts of the country are much more at risk than others, especially the northern and north-eastern parts as they are close to the Himalayas which can be seen in the map.
While there are many which are and which could be incentivized by this but as there hasn’t been neither any government nor any private interests to drive this in an organized manner it is the way it is.
The next learning came from the ISRO booth. I had been reading about ISRO’s exploits since the age of 10-12 so I know a thing or two about Launch Vehicles. What was surprising that ISRO started doing outreach just a year or two ago while it should have done that ages ago. While they had scale models of the GSLV and the PSLV’s there is so much they need to do. I came to know that ISRO had got a permanent exhibit at some science museum at Surat, Gujarat but this is something they need to replicate all over India. At least all the metros, including Pune. What was and is a shame that ISRO does all the work in the proprietary manner which means there are no open-source projects whereas both NASA and ESA (The European Space Agency) has some outlook on github. See https://github.com/NASA and https://github.com/ESA . The main excuse given is that as the technology has dual-use (which I submit it is to a limited extent) but there is so much they could open-source without hurting India’s imagined security scenarios and also popularize amateur rocketry. We also talked about any manned missions but that doesn’t seem to be any uptake on that. I guess we need to more economically, technologically as well as politically strong to take that up. ISRO had to become self-funded to an extent as many nay-sayers in the past and the present still criticize for the funds they receive which could be used in the development or welfare schemes. The Classic whether having satellites in the sky is important than giving water or electricity to a village.
I did share that there is a bit of open-source rocket which I know about, see Altus Metrum homepage . The people behind it are Bdale Gargee who’s a former DPL (Debian Project Leader) and Keith Packard (the maintainer, developer and genius behind the extX file systems.) He also has been examining the still upcoming BTRFS filesystem which probably be more reliant and have more attributes than an average Joe would ever need but that again is a different topic altogether. You can see a youtube video which gives more of an idea than this blog post will ever be able to do. All in all, something that our youngsters who have an interest could do.
Lastly, went to couple of student’s booths, there were around 100 or so booths where children from school were showing off their projects. While we weren’t able to go to all (lack of time), we did see a couple that we found interesting, one which stuck me was about putting solar panels on top of the roof of the car. While solar panels might be a bad idea as they would add to the weight of the car, having a sort of mesh integrated in the roof at the time of the production could go a long way in getting some added energy, the next question would be having better battery and keeping the energy for a long time. These are the questions that I guess also dog the electric car manufacturers as all that has to be done within a budget. People are not going to switch unless there is large saving than the existing value they have in addition to the thrust and energy they are used to happening. The problems of electric car or/and solar car or any alternative means, for e.g. air are well-known so will not spend much time on that.
In that way, the Science Day was successful as not only we were able to share some information about FOSS, we were also able to ask questions and able to expand our horizons a bit than before. I hope we are part of more Science Days so that we are able to exchange our knowledge with students as well as peers from other scientific backgrounds and continue to broaden our own scientific curiosity and horizon.